First Look: Finn’s Southern Kitchen fuels Germantown restaurant-bar boom

The main room at Finn's Southern Kitchen. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The main room and bar at Finn’s Southern Kitchen | Photo by Steve Coomes

Is it safe to say Germantown is surpassing NuLu and Clifton as Louisville’s hottest restaurant neighborhood?

With the opening of Finn’s Southern Kitchen this week, a 2016 four-star Courier-Journal review for Eiderdown, constant crowds at Four Pegs, The Post, Lydia House and Monnick Brewing Co. — plus multiple bar and restaurant projects in the works — I’ll stick my neck out and say it is.

That’s no slight against NuLu or Clifton. Anyone who’d complain about the quality of stops in those ‘hoods isn’t worth hanging with. Both still feature some of the town’s most exciting blends of mature and youthful concepts. A portion of my dollars will always meet their end on those streets.

But perhaps more significantly, the opening of Finn’s moves Germantown another step away from its blue-collar roots toward its gentrified future. Its unveiling mark’s the neighborhood’s most momentous yet.

Finn’s shares a parking lot with new Germantown Mill Lofts at 1318 McHenry St., occupying the old Louisville Cotton Mill’s administration building. The mill was home to the Fincastle Fabrics brand, and Finn’s is a play on that name.

Pickett Passifume did the architectural work, and Marea Clark, daughter of Finn’s operating partner Steve Clements, designed the sleek space. Its streamlined color palette centers on wood tone (floors, tables and chairs), white (bar and walls) and avocado tile and paint accents. The whole is easy on the eyes, fresh and strikingly spotless compared to spaces now commonly repurposed for restaurants. (But unlike the lower cost required to retool a secondhand space, the newness and nuance found here signals a “large investment.”)

Seating inside tops out at 116, but the large, lighted patio outside features room for 160 patrons at picnic tables. The space emphasizes Clements’ claim that Finn’s is very casual.

“We think that’s what this neighborhood wants — everybody wants, really, a casual place they can eat often,” said Clements, who has silent partners in Finn’s.

Clements last owned Avalon, the venerable Highlands restaurant he sold to El Camino four years ago following a bookkeeping dispute with then-contract client the Derby Café at the Kentucky Derby Museum.

“I’d said for a long time I’d not get back into the restaurant business, but here I am, back in the restaurant business,” he said. Smiling, he added, “I’m glad to be back doing this. … Or maybe I’m a little crazy.”

As implied by the name, Finn’s food is Southern. Crafted by executive chef Brian Curry, former chef at Napa River Grill, the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but with a hybrid approach. On weekdays, customers get their morning meals at a counter, fast-casual style, while lunch and dinner come with full service. On weekends, early grub reappears as full-service brunch.

Seeking to build a customer based within Germantown, Clements set prices affordably. At dinner, entrees run $12-$15, sandwiches $10-$13, and $8-$11 for apps and salads. At lunch, all menu items range from $9-$13, and at breakfast, where biscuits and small plates are featured, costs run from $3-$10. Wine, beer and cocktails on the standard list run from $5-$10.

“I think it’s targeted well for this demographic,” Clements said. “It’ll be easy for people to walk here from home.” Especially if they come from the Lofts, where Clements said 70 apartments are already occupied.

As happens with many soft openings, guests order what they want while staffers bring out surprises for introduction. Before even placing an order at last Friday’s softy, a pair of deliciously tender, fried chicken thighs were brought out while we pondered the cocktail menu.

We then ordered fried green tomatoes with chow-chow and hot pepper jam ($8), a Caesar salad blending kale, romaine and cornbread croutons ($10), beef pot roast with roasted veggies ($14), and a Finn’s ultimate biscuit with fried chicken, bacon, egg and sausage gravy ($10).

The portions we received were so large that we’ll order half that amount on return. Value for the dollar here is high. (Click here to see the rest of the menu.)

I told Clements, a restaurant colleague of mine 36 years ago, he’d done a remarkable job keeping a lid on Finn’s details as it progressed right out in the open before the eyes of my Germantown moles! He said that was by design, though prying eyes weren’t his concern. Getting Finn’s opened successfully before large crowds arrived was best done without fanfare.

“We just got our liquor license (April 27), and the floors were finished about a week before that,” he said. Curry was secured as executive chef just in early April, and his sous chefs joined the team in the second half of the month. “I’m like everybody in this market: fighting for labor. There’s just not enough of it to go around right now, so we wanted to be in really good shape before we got hit by a crowd.”

Which should come in spades with Derby Week.